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Vienna State Opera Appoints Dominique Meyer Its Next Director, with Franz Welser-Möst as Music Director

By Matthew Westphal
06 Jun 2007

Franz Welser-Möst, who becomes music director of the Vienna State Opera in September 2010.
photo by Don Snyder

The Austrian government has selected Dominique Meyer, currently head of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, as the next Intendant (general director) of the Vienna State Opera, effective with the 2010-2011 season. He succeeds the powerful Ioan Holender, who has held the post since 1993.

Taking office alongside Meyer as the company's general music director will be conductor Franz Welser-Möst, currently music director of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Zurich Opera House. He will succeed Seiji Ozawa, who arrived at the State Opera in 2002 but has been sidelined by illness for much of the past two seasons.

Austrian culture minister Claudia Schmied announced the appointments at a news conference this afternoon.

The choice of Meyer has come as a surprise to much of the Austrian music world, according to the Associated Press.  very much including the local media. Several Austrian newspapers had already reported that the Intendant job would go to Neil Shicoff, an American tenor whose candidacy was openly pushed by Austrian Chancellor (head of state) Alfred Gusenbauer — despite the fact that Shicoff, a star performer, has never held any administrative job anywhere. Other papers stated that Welser-Möst would be named Intendant (rumor had it that he was Holender's preferred candidate); still others suggested German conductor Christian Thielemann (supposedly the favorite of the State Opera orchestra, from whose ranks come the Vienna Philharmonic) would win the post.

Asked at today's press conference about Gusenbauer's championing of Shicoff, Schmied said, "There were consultations, but it was I who made the choice," according to Agence France-Presse.

Meyer, a 51-year-old French national who was raised in Germany as the son of a diplomat, studied economics and business and began his career in the French Ministry of Industry, according to Le Monde. He began working in the arts in 1984, when Jack Lang, French minister of culture under President François Mitterand, took him on as an adviser. In 1986 he joined the administration of the Opéra de Paris, of which he was named director in 1989. After presiding over the troubled opening of the company's second house, the Opéra-Bastille, Meyer returned to the Ministry of Culture, according to Le Monde. In 1994 he became director of the Opéra de Lausanne in Switzerland, where he remained for five years; in 1999 he returned to Paris to take the reins at the Champs-Elysées.

The Austrian-born Welser-Möst is familiar in the U.S. as the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, a post he has held since 2002. (One feature of his tenure in Cleveland has been presenting major operas in concert; the Orchestra's season closes this weekend with Welser-Möst leading performances of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier.) His other principal title is at the Zurich Opera House, where he has been chief conductor since 1995 and was promoted to general music director in 2005. Welser-Möst's success in these two major posts has made him something of a local hero in Austria, particularly since he established a biennial Cleveland Orchestra residency at Vienna's Musikverein in 2003. In fact, in 2004 Holender offered Welser-Möst the music director job at the State Opera; Welser-Möst declined, saying that his work with the Cleveland Orchestra "deserve[s] 100 percent focus," as he told The Plain Dealer at the time. (Holender extended Ozawa's contract the following year.)

With Welser-Möst joining the Vienna State Opera (the world's busiest house) in the fall of 2010, observers are naturally wondering about his future in Zurich (where he is contracted through 2010-11) and Cleveland (where his term runs through summer 2012). For now, at least in public, the Cleveland Orchestra is showing nothing but happiness at the news: "We're celebrating his appointment," executive director Gary Hanson told The Plain Dealer today. "It's fabulous. We're proud. The Vienna appointment is an enormous validation of Franz's international pre-eminence."

Hanson confirmed that Welser-Möst would hold the Cleveland and Vienna posts in tandem from September 2010 through August 2012, saying "It is normal for the great conductors of the world to hold two posts. It provides enormous value to both of [the institutions]."

He declined to speak about the period beyond 2012, however, saying only, "We are very, very pleased that Franz is signed to a long-term contract with the Cleveland Orchestra. [...] We have always continued to plan very, very far into the future. The reality of today is that he devotes himself very seriously to his work in Cleveland and to his work in Zurich."




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